By Onochie Anibeze
May God never give us an Obasanjo again,” I once prayed on this column. President Obasanjo was then on his last days in office and the review of sports under his tenure was a sad commentary.
I was not alone. Many others who reviewed sports in the Obasanjo years scored him low.
They wished we never had another Obasanjo as President too.
President Obasanjo, no doubt, impressed some people in some areas. But in sports he failed woefully. His administration accelerated the recent plunge in our sports. Some would argue that the crash actually started in his era. But he meant well for our sports. Only one bad thing subsisted and consumed our sports. Politics. He allowed party politics to destroy our sports. How? Obasanjo’s party, the PDP, assumed power in 1999 and did not respect merit and professionalism in the appointment of their party men to man many sectors. Sports was among the sectors that suffered a seeming party policy that zoned ministerial appointments to certain geographical areas.
The appointment of sports ministers and our sports scorecard before PDP’s zoning and after clearly make the points for me. I state them below. Emphasis is on football and from the mid 80s:
Before 1999 Zoning of Sports Portfolio
*In 1985 Nigeria made history when they won the maiden Under 16 World Cup. Emeka Omeruah was sports minister.
*In 1993 when Nigeria qualified for their first ever World Cup finals, the USA ’94 World Cup Chief Alex Akinyele headed the National Sports Commission.
*In the same 1993, the next World Cup we won, the Under 17 World Cup in Japan, Sylvanus Akinwumi was the chairman of National Sports Commission. He also led Nigeria’s delegation to the USA ’94 World Cup. We did not only get to the second round but were also jointly rated the most entertaining team with Brazil.
*In 1996 when we became the first African country to win the soccer gold in the Olympics, Jim Nwobodo was the sports minister. Atlanta ’96 remains green in our memories. Jim Nwobodo remained the minister up till 1997 when we qualified for the France ‘98 World Cup.
*In the 1998 World Cup we got to the second round. Emeka Omeruah was the sports minister. He remained the minister till 1999 when Obasanjo’s PDP came on board and the following happened:
Nigeria’s sports scorecard after zoning.
*June1999 – January 2001 Damishi Sango was sports minister. We won nothing.
*February 2001 – May 2002, Ishaya Mark Aku was sports minister. We won nothing but we qualified for 2002 World Cup and crashed in the first round.
*May 2003 – May 2003. Stephen Akiga was sports minister. We won nothing.
*July 2003 – July 2005, Musa Mohammed was sports minister. We won nothing and failed to qualify for 2006 World Cup.
*July 2005-July 2007, Seidu Samaila Sambawa was sports minister. With over aged players we won the Under 17 World Cup again.
*July 2007 – October 2008 Abdulrahman Gimba was sports minister. We won nothing.
*December 2008 – March 2010, Sani Ndanusa was sports minister. We won nothing. The runners-up place in the Under 17 we hosted was tainted with over aged players.
*April 6, 2010 – December 22, 2010, Ibrahim Bio was sports minister. We won nothing.
*December 2010 – July 2011, Tahoheed Adedoja was interim minister. He just held forth when Bio resigned to pursue gubernatorial race in Kwara. Tahoheed promised to build hotels at Liberty Stadium Ibadan, National Stadium in Lagos and the Ahmadu Bello stadium in Kaduna. Where are the hotels? We won nothing.
*July 2011 – December 2011, Yusuf Suleiman was sports minister. We failed to qualify for All Africa Games, Nations Cup, and the Olympics. We won nothing.
What more do I add here? It only pained me personally that late President Umoru Yar’Adua continued where Obasanjo stopped. When he visited Vanguard Newspapers in the course of his campaign I told him why Obasanjo failed in sports. He told me that if he won the election his administration would consider expertise in the appointment of ministers to some ministries. He promised that sports would be one such area to be so considered.
He became President but reneged on his promise. The PDP has failed us in sports. President Goodluck Jonathan has made no difference with the appointments he has made so far. But with the exit of Yusuf Suleiman the President has a chance to effect a change. We have had plans and reports on how to revive sports in Nigeria. But the successive ministers have always failed to implement them.
This is a major problem. The next is the poor funding of sports. It is so because funding is tied to the budgets. The preparations for the London Olympics, for example, are yet to take off because the ministry is waiting for allocation from a budget that has not even been passed.
However, I would like Mr. President to reconsider the PDP zoning in the appointment of sports ministers. It has failed us. It failed largely because of their disrespect for merit and expertise and not necessarily because of zoning because I believe there are people in the said zone who could have done well. But the point is that their approach has failed us and President Jonathan now has another chance to raise our hope. Let him discard zoning and consider merit in the appointment of next sports minister.
In sports we need somebody with international exposure who can bring business discipline to sports administration.
We need somebody who will manage the allocations to sports in a way that we may not have to wait for the budget to prepare for international competitions.
We need somebody who will give everything to sports development. Let President Jonathan spread his transformation to sports too or we, at the end of the day, re-echo the prayer on Obasanjo on him.
Well said, Paul Bassey
Paul Bassey is not gnashing his teeth that Nigeria will not feature in the soccer events of the London Olympics, the same event that had fetched Nigeria silver in the Beijing games. He is also not crying over any spilled milk with regard to Nations Cup failure.
Reason: Competing in those events would not have developed our football. SportsBassey aired his view on Peak Soccer Moment. Bassey would rather cry that we are not developing than worry over defeats or victories that may not help our development.
I agree with the ace sports man. In the Basel team that eliminated Man U from the Champions League, there were Swiss players who featured in the 2009 Under 17 World Cup in Nigeria. Can any one point out any player in the Nigerian team that won the silver or who was in the winning team of 2007 now playing Champions League? Well said Bassey.